Tips for Drying and Storing Seeds

It's true that garden seeds germinate best when they are fresh, but this doesn't mean that after 2 to 3 years you should toss out all of your leftover seeds. In reality, vegetable and flower seeds can remain viable for several years (sometimes even decades) if they are dried and stored properly. Here are some tips for keeping them fresh and viable for as long as possible.

Drying Collected Seeds

The seeds you collect from garden plants need to be completely dry before packing them for storage. Remember, if you're saving your own seeds, plant open-pollinated varieties (not hybrids) so they'll come back true to type.

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Air drying: To air dry seeds, scatter them across a sheet of newspaper or a paper grocery sack and place them in a dry location (one with plenty of air circulation) where they can remain undisturbed for one to two weeks. If you're drying more than one type of seed at a time, it's helpful to write down the name of each type of seed next to it on the newspaper.

Try to resist the temptation to speed up the process by placing them near a heat source or warming them in the oven. It's much safer to dry your seeds slowly. Drying them too rapidly can result in cracking and damage to the seed coat.

Adding silica: After your seeds have been air dried, they are ready for storage. Place them in an airtight container, along with a small amount of silica gel (packets can be found online or at craft stores). This will take care of any additional moisture introduced during storage. Some types of silica packs use color indicators to signal when they are absorbing moisture (packets turn pink), or when they are completely dry (packets turn blue).

Once "used up" these packets can be re-charged (dried out again in the oven) and re-used. If you can't find silica gel packets at craft stores or online, consider sacrificing one from a bottle in your medicine cabinet. A small amount of powered milk wrapped in a paper towel can also be used as a drying agent, provided you replace it at least every 6 months.

Making your own seed tape: Scatter your seeds an even distance apart on sheets of non-bleach paper towels. As the seeds air dry, they will stick to the paper towels. When completely dry, roll them up right in the towel and tuck them into air-tight plastic bags for storage. When you're ready to plant, just tear off bits of the towel, one seed at a time, and plant seed and towel right in the soil.

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Tips for Storing Seeds

  • When it comes to protecting the longevity of seeds in storage, cool and dry is the name of the game. Humidity and warmth will shorten the seeds' shelf life, either by causing them to germinate prematurely, or by encouraging the growth of mold. It's fine to keep unused seeds in their original packets until next season, as long as you protect them from extreme heat and high humidity.
  • For long-term storage, the freezer is a great place to store (non-tropical) vegetable and flower seeds. Place dry seeds in a labeled, airtight jar. When you need seed, remove the container from the freezer and let it warm up to room temperature before opening it up (this prevents condensation from forming). Once the contents reach room temperature, take out what you need and return the remaining seeds to the freezer.

Expect Some Losses

If some of your saved seeds fail to germinate, either the following year or after 2 to 3 in storage, don't be too disappointed. Some seeds are simply duds. Others are genetically programmed with a low germination rate to begin with.

On the bright side, there is also a good chance that some of your seeds will remain viable a lot longer (years longer) than you would expect. If years later you happen to find a forgotten jar of seeds in the bottom corner of your freezer, go ahead and plant them. You may be surprised to find that they all germinate!

Ideas for Storage Containers

  • mailing envelopes
  • photo albums/3-ring binders with clear, plastic sleeves
  • 35 mm film containers (these are becoming scarce)
  • baby food jars
  • photo storage boxes
  • CD cases
  • recipe boxes
  • pill bottles
  • spice jars
  • plastic sandwich bags

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services.

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